The largest organ in the human body, our skin, is often overlooked. Our skin is on the front lines day after day, waging war against climate, environmental pollutants and damaging UV rays. Skin is not only a precursor to our inner health, but also a timeline of our life. Every scar, freckle, and birth mark tells a tale.
Our skin serves many purposes. It shields organs inside the body protecting them from injury, keeps invading germs out, retains water and other fluids and aides in regulating body temperature. The skin is made up of three layers; the epidermis, dermis, and subcutis. Within the epidermis are melanocytes, which are the cells that produce pigment, called melanin. Melanin is what makes skin brown or tan, protecting deeper layers of skin from harmful UV rays. Melanocyctes are the cells that can become melanoma.
Melanoma is a cancer that begins in the melanocytes. Melanoma tumors are most often brown or black in color. However, in rare cases melanomas can have no color at all. A common misconception is that people with darker skin tones cannot develop skin cancer. Having dark skin may lower the risk of melanoma, but this does not mean that a person with dark skin can not get melanoma.
It is crucial to remember that if caught in the early stages, melanoma can be cured. But, if not caught early it is likely to spread to other parts of the body. Melanoma occurs less frequently than other forms of skin cancer, but is far more serious.
UV light exposure is the leading risk factor for most melanomas. Sunlight, tanning lamps and tanning beds all greatly increase your risk of developing melanoma. Studies have also linked melanoma in stomach, legs, and arms to frequent sunburns (especially in childhood).
People with fair skin are at risk for melanoma 10 times more than other people. Fair skinned individuals with freckles, red, or blond hair also have a higher risk of melanoma. People with red hair have the highest risk of melanoma.
A family history of melanoma is also a contributing risk factor. 10% of people with melanoma have an immediate family member with the disease.
Melanoma is most often found in older people, however it is one of the rare cancers that are also found in younger people.
Possible Signs of Melanoma:
The ABCD rule will help you detect abnormal moles that should be checked by your doctor.
Asymmetry: One half of the mole does not match the other half.
Border irregularity: The edges of the mole are irregular or not smooth (ragged, blurred, or notched)
Color: The color of the mole is not uniform. There may be shades of pink, red, white, or blue.
Diameter: The mole is larger than ¼ inch (about the size of a pencil eraser)
Easy Prevention Tips:
- Limit UV exposure (natural sunlight and tanning beds)
- Protect your skin with clothing or a hat
- Use Sunscreen
- Wear Sunglasses
- Stay in the Shade
- Check for abnormal moles
- Schedule routine skin cancer exams by your doctor
Source: American Cancer Society